Foot patrols bring policing to people

By James Fuller

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"Morning, how's it going? Beautiful day," says Constable Leanne Fairbairn to a passing shopper.

It is a glorious morning as I accompany the community policewoman around Gate Pa Shopping Centre in the week the Bay of Plenty Times revealed regional police foot patrols doubled in 2012. The numbers leapt to 3835 last year from the 1921 patrols conducted in 2011.

The more the merrier as far as Mrs Fairbairn is concerned.

"I absolutely love this part of the job. You are in the real world, you're checking in with people that you should be checking in with. I've got the best job in the force. I get that positive feedback all the time and it allows you to build networks within the community."

As we walk and talk Mrs Fairbairn engages with nearly everyone she meets. A quick "hello, how are you", is natural, not forced.

"You have to interact with people. You can't walk around with a glum face," Mrs Fairbairn says.

Community centres, parks, schools and other areas are visited but the focal point for many of these foot patrols are the main shopping areas.

For the 44-year-old based at Greerton's Tauranga South Police Station that means Gate Pa, Greerton, Merivale and Welcome Bay.

"It's nice for these areas to have a positive engagement with the police and foot patrols allow us to do that. We are there in a non-threatening role rather than a negative one and people react well to it."

The desired result of the daily patrols, which last up to two hours, is a heightened visibility, community presence and to act as a deterrent. The ultimate combined goal is reduced crime. Mrs Fairbairn, who has been a police officer for 16 years, regularly ducks into shops during her rounds. She checks in on the store owners, keeping informed about issues, about trends with regards to damage or problems with gangs of loitering youths.

"A lot of people go about their daily business and wouldn't necessarily call us in regards to everything they've seen. They don't want to think they're bothering us but if you're there already, walking about these areas, talking to people, it gives them that opportunity.

"Shopkeepers are busy in their stores all day so they might not get the chance to talk to us otherwise."

David Stewart, owner of The Fresh Market, is one of many appreciative shopkeepers.

"The thing about patrols is they're visible. People know there's police out there in the community. It's like if you happen to be driving at 60km/h in a 50 zone and you see the police, you slow down. It's the same thing, it's a deterrent ... "

Mr Stewart said it was commonsense foot patrols were a good idea but politicians were not always blessed with commonsense.

"I live in Mount Maunganui and New Year's was the best it's been for years and that was because of the bigger police presence," he said. On a personal level, the store owner praised Mrs Fairbairn's attitude and professionalism.

"Leanne's exceptional at what she does and she's always willing to help. I can drop her an email or phone her about things, it's never a problem," Mr Stewart said.

That professionalism was recognised on Tuesday when Mrs Fairbairn was chosen to represent the regional police force at an event Celebrating New Zealand Women. It was hosted by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and took place at Government House, Auckland.

As the patrol finishes, Mrs Fairbairn adds she cannot recall having to intervene in a major incident whilst out patrolling in her seven years as a community constable.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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